Downsizing S. Korea-U.S. military exercise is huge leverage for N. Korea: ex-diplomat

SEOUL-- The option of scaling down the annual joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States is huge leverage in reining in North Korea's nuclear weapons ambition, a former career diplomat said Thursday in a forum hosted by Yonhap News Agency.

"I think the scale of the South Korea-U.S. joint exercise could be revised down or readjusted" on the condition that North Korea stops its nuclear and missile tests, freezes its production of weapon-grade plutonium and uranium as well as shutting down its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and letting the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the country, Shin Bong-kil, formerly a diplomat of 30 years, said in a forum co-hosted by Yonhap News Agency and the Ministry of Unification.

The annual forum was held to discuss the Moon Jae-in administration's vision for peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula.

Referring to his attendance at a semi-governmental meeting held between North Korea and the South Korea-U.S. side a month earlier in Stockholm, Sweden, the former ambassador to Jordan, said that "From what I have heard there, the thing more painful for North Korea than international sanctions it is now facing was the joint South Korea-U.S. military exercise."

"Given that the recent talk of the possibility of (U.S.) pre-emptive attacks and a (South Korean contingency) operation to decapitate Kim Jong-un put North Korea in a state of sever alertness, it is huge leverage," Shin said, referring to the option of downsizing the joint Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises the allies carry out every spring in South Korea.

Shin, now a professor at Yonsei University's Graduate School of International Studies, also said South Korea may also be able to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a now-suspended joint inter-Korean factory park in the North Korea border town of Kaesong, if a freeze is agreed on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

The reopening and resumption of inter-Korean economic cooperation would require permission under the United Nations Security Council resolutions, but "easing the U.N. sanctions could be negotiated if there's a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear front, he noted.

Shin also stressed that South Korea should go beyond its current reliance on the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the U.N. to pursue a regional cooperation mechanism as a means to bring North Korea to the table for negotiations and eventually secure peace in the region.

"Northeast Asia should build up a regional cooperation mechanism to take a lead in efforts to solve North Korea's nuclear issues," he said, urging the government to capitalize on the trilateral dialogue frame involving South Korea, China and Japan, symbolized by the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat. The secretariat was set up in Seoul in 2011 to back up the arrangement of the three countries' summit and ministerial meetings.

The trilateral body should invite Russia or Mongolia as its dialogue partners who could bring North Korea to the table with them, according to Shin.

Prof. Kim Yeon-chul of Inje University said in his separate presentation that now is the time to delve into how South Korea and the international community could break out for "the vicious cycle of pressure and deterrence."

"Measures of maximum engagement have not been thought out yet, but efforts are needed to design maximum engagement," he said.

Lee Soo-hyung, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, stressed the importance of consistency and flexibility in the process of the administration's execution of policies toward North Korea.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

You may also like...